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Most Utah jails don't provide top-line withdrawal drugs to addicted inmates

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Jail Substance Abuse 2

Darcy Goddard discusses ways of reporting inmate deaths during a meeting with the Substance Use Treatment and Withdrawal in County Jails Workgroup at the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Only a handful of Utah jails give top-line withdrawal drugs to addicted inmates, and smaller counties lack resources to do so, according to a new state report and the work of a special committee.

The report, made public Friday, listed the Salt Lake County Jail as the lone program offering various applications of the withdrawal drugs methadone, buprenorphine, naloxone and naltrexone.

Weber County's is the only other jail offering any of those treatments, according to the report: naltrexone, better known as Vivitrol. While Davis County sheriff's officials reported no use of those drugs, county behavioral health workers have provided Vivitrol to some inmates after release.

Vivitrol kit

Part of a Vivitrol kit is shown Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, at Davis Behavioral Health in Layton. U.S. prisons are experimenting with the medication, which could help addicted inmates stay off heroin and other opioid drugs after they are released. Jails in Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties also are also running Vivitrol pilot programs.

The level of treatment Utah's jails give inmates who are withdrawing from opiates is a major issue being tackled by the Senate Bill 205 jail and prison substance abuse workgroup.

At least two inmates who died in 2016 were withdrawing from opiate addictions: Marion Herrera in the Weber County Jail and Madison Jensen in Duchesne County. Both deaths have resulted in wrongful death lawsuits in U.S. District Court.

The Legislature this year ordered county sheriff's offices to report to the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice their records of jail deaths and their policies and provisions for dealing with inmates undergoing substance withdrawals.

The CCJJ submitted its first annual report to lawmakers recently, and it was posted Friday on the Legislature's website. Lawmakers will use that report, and recommendations still to come from the substance abuse workgroup, to consider new jail policies in the 2019 legislative session.

The report said beside Salt Lake and Weber counties, almost all other Utah jails either do not have policies covering withdrawing inmates; did not submit copies of policies if they do have them; or offer only non-narcotic-based withdrawal treatments.

During its meetings this fall, the workgroup has discussed potentially recommending state help for cash-strapped counties that do not provide the top-line withdrawal drugs.

Jail security is another issue cited by sheriff's offices — they fear narcotics-based withdrawal drugs will be diverted by inmates for illicit uses.

DEATH STATISTICS GARBLED

Meanwhile, the CCJJ report underlined glaring inconsistencies and gaps in the information gathered by counties regarding jail deaths.

The CCJJ said jails submitted summary reports indicating 51 deaths occurred from Jan. 1, 2013, to the end of 2017. But individuaL case reports provided totaled up 71 jail deaths. And an additional three deaths were reported without any detail, so CCJJ chose not to add them to the report.

The data problems have two primary causes, CCJJ data coordinator Angelo Perillo said in a recent meeting: Inconsistent data collection by the counties themselves for jail death reports they already submit to the U.S. Justice Department; and the absence of any responses to the SB 205 mandates from about 40 percent of the counties.

"It's a jigsaw puzzle," he said.

Other findings in the CCJJ report include:

• At least 46 percent of the 71 inmates who died had been in jail eight days or fewer.

• Suicide was the leading cause (54 percent), followed by illness (23 percent), alcohol or drug intoxication (6 percent) and accident (1 percent). Another 17 percent were reported as "other/unknown." Workgroup members say they suspect many of the suicides have underlying causes that include substance addictions.

• At least 42 percent of jail fatalities were pretrial detainees, compared to 25 percent with convictions. Another 32 percent were reported as "undisclosed/other."

The Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee is scheduled to discuss the CCJJ report Wednesday at the Capitol.

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